Can biodegradeable food packages
contaminate gluten free food?
Italian study indicates that gluten free food can be contaminated with gluten from biodegradable packages and tableware
Three independent tests performed by different European coeliac societies reveal that gluten can migrate from biodegradable containers into packaged or loose food. At the moment, European legislation does not regulate the information on allergens in Food Contact Materials (FCM) such as packages and disposable tableware.
Rising concerns regarding food containers made of gluten-containing material
Food packaging produced with biodegradable material, also of vegetable origin, is growing, both for disposable tableware (plates, cutlery, straws, etc.) and for the packaging of prepacked food products.
Most of the biodegradable packaging is derived from corn, cellulose pulp, wood or bamboo. However, biodegradable FCM derived from cereals containing gluten or pasta-based (straws) can also be found on the market.
The Italian Coeliac Society (AIC, www.celiachia.it) together with the Italian Packaging Institute have performed a study on the possible gluten cross contact from biodegradable packages and tableware to gluten free food.
The results of the study show that gluten free food was contaminated with gluten in values well over the maximum gluten threshold allowed for coeliac food consumption.
This confirmed the outcome of two other studies performed by Dutch and Spanish national coeliac societies where gluten also was found to migrate from certain biodegradable packages made out of gluten-containing materials.
Italian study reveals severe gluten migration into gluten-free food
The Italian study shows that, in certain circumstances, gluten will migrate from the containers into the food. The study revealed that wheat bran-based dishes contaminated gluten free food to the point that exceed the allowed gluten level for gluten free products.
Two types of food were tested in the study. An Italian traditional soft cheese (Crescenza) and a gluten free lasagna specifically formulated for celiacs. The food had a 30-minute contact with biodegradable bran-based dishes. The cheese was left at room temperature whereas the lasagna was left on the plate oven hot to mimic real daily situations.
In both cases, gluten was transferred into the two foods. Both foods were previously tested for their gluten content, confirmed below 5 mg/kg. After the test, the cheese showed gluten contents of 45 mg/kg and the lasagna had a level of exceeding 80 mg/kg.
This is in line with the findings from Dutch and Spanish studies on this matter.
Italian companies mostly used biodegradable packages safe for coeliacs
The Italian study showed that most biodegradable packages used for prepacked foods are made of materials not containing gluten, such as corn, cellulose pulp, wood or bamboo. However, while 77% of the companies in the study used non-gluten-containing materials, the other 23% were at first unaware of whether their packages contained gluten. Only after the survey of the Italian Association, they made sure that no allergens were present in their packages: a sign that information and more awareness on the issue is needed.
“We believe companies should be sure that allergens are not unintentionally introduced into gluten free products through the food containers. Especially since sustainability is becoming an important market driver leading to increased use of compostable packages”, says Giuseppe Di Fabio, President of the Italian Coeliac Society, “for this reason, we have already started a number of actions to protect celiacs in Italy: dissemination of guidelines for celiacs, information both to FCMs producers and both users (food companies and caterers) and we are confident that we will be able, together with the other Celiac and allergic Associations and the AOECS, to address the national and European Institutions to finally regulate this so sensitive issue”.
Coeliacs should avoid using FCMs made from gluten-containing materials
The studies conducted by the Italian, Dutch and Spanish coeliac societies indicate that even if the presence on the market of FCMs deriving from gluten-containing cereals seems not to be very widespread, coeliacs should avoid FCMs derived from gluten-containing cereals or when their composition it’s not clear as a serious risk for their health. Unfortunately, at the moment, there is no obligation in Europe to declare the composition of FCMs, which puts coeliacs and other people suffering from allergies in a vulnerable position when using biodegradable food packages, tableware, straws or other containers made of pasta.
Webinar and public debate
AOECS held a webinar on this subject on 7th February where we presented the findings from the studies. Our desire was to start a public debate about the risks of using biodegradeable packages containing gluten and seek for possible ways forward.